Former VW boss Martin Winterkorn charged with conspiracy and fraud

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The indictment was unsealed on Thursday in a district court in Detroit after prosecutors filed the charges against Winterkorn in secret in March.

Winterkorn stepped down from his role at Volkswagen in September of 2015, only a matter of days after the German vehicle maker confessed to outfitting 11 million cars with a device created to cheat at emissions testing.

The indictment alleges that Winterkorn conspired with company executives and employees to violate the Clean Air Act and defraud the USA and customers living there by falsely claiming that its "clean diesel" vehicles met United States emissions requirements. "These are serious allegations, and we will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law".

Last year, Volkswagen pleaded guilty to fraud, obstruction of justice and falsifying statements in Detroit as part of a $4.3bn settlement reached with the US Justice Department over the scandal and agreed to three years of oversight by a former US deputy attorney general.

Winterkorn faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge and up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine on the wire fraud charges.

Five additional defendants, including former VW executives and senior managers, were indicted in January 2017, but have not been apprehended. The memo also stated it was likely that authorities would investigate whether or not the vehicles contained defeat devices.

A lawyer for Winterkorn in Germany did not immediately comment.

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He is also facing a criminal investigation in VW's home country of Germany.

The eighth is an Italian citizen and the former manager of VW's subsidiary Audi.

The indictment describes a July 27, 2015 meeting at which VW employees presented PowerPoint slides to Winterkorn and "other senior VW AG management at an in-person meeting at VW's headquarters in Wolfsburg".

In March past year, VW paid a $2.8 billion fine after pleading guilty to deceiving U.S. regulators with the defeat devices.

VW has admitted fitting up to 11 million diesel vehicles with software that could falsely show they complied with emissions tests.

According to Reuters, the United States indictment of Martin Winterkorn is largely a symbolic one.

When the USA began looking into the discrepancies found between the declared and discovered emissions levels, Winterkorn chose to hide the "defeat device in responding to questions from United States regulators, while appearing to cooperate, " Ars Technica reports. The Justice Department also extends its thanks to the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Braunschweig, Germany.

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